Archive for the ‘Journalism’ Category

This book review of Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel also comes from the never-published Death Ray #22.


Kim Stanley Robinson/Harper Voyager

Part historical novel, part SF story set in Robinson’s Accelerando universe, Galileo’s Dream returns Robinson to his favourite topics: human failings, human potential, memory, being and truth (subjective and objective); set against an entertaining, science-fictional theory of multi-dimensional time.

Galileo is one of the most important men in scientific history, whose observational rigour helped usher in the modern age. He is also, according to the book, an important nexus in the braided histories of reality, one whom the denizens of the Jovian moons in 3020 hold in especially high regard, partly because of his discoveries, but mostly because they are convinced that by altering his life, then later taking him to the future, they can shorten the centuries of horror that mankind must endure before achieving a state of rational grace. (more…)

Five years after I started, and I’m very close to finishing my posting of my Death Ray archive online. I’ve got some large features and other bits and pieces left over from earlier issues, otherwise we’re now into matter created for the never published Death Ray #22. So, although I wrote this review of the film Pandorum over five years ago, it is in some respects, new material.

Any one who has read my book Crash will know that I love the “colony ship gone wrong” subgenre of SF, so I had a lot of time for this flawed film.




Director: Christopher Alvart

Writers: Travis Milloy, Christian Alvart

Starring: Dennis Quaid, Ben Foster, Cam Gigandet, Antje Traue, Cung Le

Cinema’s first ‘colony ship gone wrong’ movie. Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers. Okay?

The generation ship that goes wrong is an SF classic. Usually the vessel at the heart of the story has been on a journey for centuries, and has overrun its target/broken down/gone mad, and whose ignorant inhabitants discover the shocking secrets behind their world just before real disaster strikes. They’re all pretty samey, but it’s one of those SF conventions that is traditionally narrow in scope. Like a ghost story, the pleasure comes not from the novelty of the ideas, but from how they are presented.

The Elysium is a craft with its crew in suspended animation, not a generation ship, but when our two leads Payton (Quaid) and Bower (Ben Foster) awake, they’re initially amnesiac, so we get the prescribed dose of ignorance necessary for a voyage of discovery through the ship’s rusting halls; much else that follows plays by the sub-genre’s rules, to our delight. As you’d expect, the Elysium’s not in a good way: the reactor is about to blow, and it is crawling with carnivorous mutants.

Pandorum‘s been slated elsewhere, but we liked it. Naturally, as we all suspected, the Orc-like mutants are devolved crew members. How that actually happened is, like most of the back story, nicely handled and is not the movie’s main twist. Only the ‘pandorum’ aspect of the film – a deep space psychosis, and the movie’s singular original contribution to the conventions of colony-ships-gone-wrong fiction – is fumbled, being poorly integrated into the rest of the movie.

The film sags for twenty minutes in the middle, but manages to keep the tension up the rest of the time. The numerous twists come announced, but even the one every fan of this subgenre will be expecting from the opening credits (the one regarding their destination and journey time, without giving too much away) has a spin on it.

We suspect bad notices elsewhere are the result of a lack of familiarity with and fondness for this staple SF story – take away that, and you have a somewhat hokey action film patched together from many others (Alien3, Event Horizon, et al), but as we said, generation/colony ship stories are derivative anyway, and Pandorum is a more than fair attempt to put it up on the big screen; that’s where the novelty lies this time out for the subgenre, in moving pictures. Regular audiences might be left cold, but we reckon hardened SF fans will have enough appreciation of the colony ship angle to get the most out of the film.

Terry Pratchett had a big influence on me; reading his work was one of the prods that poked me in the direction of the career I now have, so I’m going to join my voice to that of the rest of the world and mourn his passing.

I remember first being exposed to Sir Terry’s work by reading an excerpt back in the 1980s in White Dwarf. The scene was the one featuring the gnome in moleskin trousers (The Light Fantastic, I think. Aficionados may know better, please set me right if it was The Colour of Magic). I picked up his first two Discworld books on the back of that, and for several years read everything he wrote. Eventually I moved on, simply because I wanted to experience other authors’ voices and worlds. But years after, when I read some of his later books, I was delighted to see that they retained their quality and wit. He did not seem to grow tired or jaded with Discworld, it was an engine of endless creativity and satire, and in that it seemed to be as much a source of delight to him as it was to his readers. (more…)

A great book, not so much for its multiple and mostly inventive twists, but for the wry observations Flynn makes of modern life and marriage. The mystery element of the story is compelling until about four-fifths of the way through, where Flynn has no choice but to begin wrapping things up. Once the final revelation has occurred, the story loses its compulsive impetus, and as usual with books that depend on such to engage, its finale is a little unsatisfying.

Nevertheless, this is fine read.

Four stars

The first Straub I’ve read (the wife has stacks of them) proved to be more or less satisfactory. Straub’s story of modern wizards presents a dark and intelligent interpretation of magic, mixing up fairytales, psychology, coming-of-age tropes and inter-generational distrust to good effect. A little too languid and dreamlike in places to generate intense engagement consistently, at moments it managed to enchant and horrify.
However, I believe that Voice of Our Shadow, by Jonathan Carroll, explores similar ground more affectingly.

Three stars.

Ronald D Moore and David Eick have impressive pedigrees as creators of television SF. I was lucky enough to speak to them just after Battlestar Galactica ended, and go their final thoughts on the series. We also spoke a little about the prequel, Caprica, which at the time we did the interview was being produced. Sadly, it was cancelled before the end of the first season. From Death Ray #18.

All this has happened before, all this will all happen again…

It’s out with the old and in with the new as Battlestar Galactica comes to a final end and production on Caprica ramps up. The Adama clan will be off our screens for the best part of a year, before we are introduced to their immediate ancestors. We were lucky enough to get creators of both shows, Ronald Moore and David Eick, to talk about writing the climax of one, and the beginning of the other.

You’d have to travel halfway to Kobol to find an SF series that has been as consistently good as Battlestar Galactica. Basing their show on TV maverick Glen A Larson’s space-take on the Exodus, veteran SF producers Ronald Moore and David Eick succeeded in crafting a tale fit for our times, an action-packed saga of the near-extinction of humanity, wrapped up with fat agnostic bows. Battlestar’s complexity, cast of diverse characters and willingness to ask some tough questions about religion, loyalty, belief and societies under stress (not to mention some kick-ass space battles) have earned it numerous Emmies, Saturns and Hugos, as well as the prestigious Peabody Award. They kept us guessing until the end, and now it’s over. Not to worry, show creators David Eick and Ronald D Moore have a spin-off, coming soon.

We spoke to Moore and Eick about the series, where some of its major themes came from, its legacy, the fans and that pesky writers strike that threw US TV for six back in 2007. It’s not just the timing: this really is the last word on Battlestar Galactica. (more…)